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by Mike Bauml

Only orthodox Christians are invited to participate in communion. Does this phrase disturb you? It does many other Orthodox Christians and me. It sounds haughty, bigoted, and self-righteous. It hardly seems the best way to welcome others to the Orthodox faith. In fact who wants to bring guests to be told they are unable to totally share in the service. I discussed this with Father Andrew and he gave me some literature on the subject. I was able to reach an understanding concerning the necessity for this policy. I could provide you with canon laws and highly technical reasons as to why inter-communion is not allowed, but I would rather try and convey my perceptions as a layperson as to why this rule makes sense.

First of all, what is Holy Communion and what does it mean to receive it? Holy Communion is just that, it is holy. It is bread and wine mystically transformed into the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is not a substitute or a representation; it is the real thing. It must be treated with the utmost respect and reverence as if standing before the chalice we are standing before Jesus himself because, In fact we are! Holy Communion is not something to be treated or distributed lightly. In fact if any communion is spilled by accident on the carpet or on a piece of clothing, that material should be burned so that we do not even accidentally show disrespect to our Lord. Receiving Holy Communion is the main reason that the church is here. Its distinctive and unique function is that we may eat the bread of the Eucharist and drink from the common cup until the Lord comes again. Many other churches and denominations do not share this belief totally.

We receive Holy Communion for the salvation of our souls. It also makes us one body with each other, the Church, and with God. This unity is not created through law but by the fact that there is only one Holy Communion and when we share it, we become one body in Christ. When we partake of the body and blood of Jesus, we are making a statement. We are saying that we are one with the Lord and His church and that we believe the ideals set forth in the creed and by Jesus and the Church.

The fact that inter-communion is not allowed disturbs us and it is my opinion because we desire unity; we desire one church for all. We should want these things. However our desires do not change the fact that if an atheist receives Communion, he does not achieve true unity with the body of Christ; he is still an atheist. Along with Holy Communion, true unity depends on common beliefs. When we receive Holy Communion we also make the statement that we have properly prepared to receive it. This means that we have examined ourselves, have gone to confession as needed, fasted and prayed.

The prayer before communion asks that we receive Communion not to our condemnation but unto the healing of soul and body. The priest has a responsibility not to administer Communion to those who he feels could receive it to their condemnation. If a guest does not believe in the true nature of Christ, that he is truly God or that the Holy Communion is the actual body and blood of our Lord and Savior, that guest would make a mockery of the Eucharist which could be to their own condemnation. For this reason alone the rules concerning inter-communion make sense. If we as Orthodox Christians are required to properly prepare our bodies and our souls to receive Holy Communion and to profess the beliefs of the Church, it also follows that guests would be required to do the same.

As an Orthodox Christian, if you attend services at a church of a different religion and receive Communion you are making the statement that you profess the beliefs of that particular church. You may be saying that the Eucharist is not truly 'the body and blood of Christ or that the Pope is the supreme representative of Christ on earth and is infallible or that Christ is not even truly God. For this reason we as Orthodox are also prohibited from receiving communion in churches not of our beliefs.

The Orthodox Church is not alone in the policy of denying the validity of inter-communion. Other faiths hold the same policy, most notably the Roman Catholics and Missouri Synod Lutherans. While some parish priests ignore the rule either out of a desire not to offend anyone or out of ignorance, the Roman Catholic Church also forbids inter-communion. .

There are historical precedents for the laws concerning inter-communion. In the early church, catechumens (those who are studying the faith but not yet members) were required to leave the liturgy at a point before communion. Also those who were involved in heresies or grievous sins were denied communion until these problems were resolved. There is also the matter of apostolic succession. We, along with the Roman Catholic Church, believe that our clergy have a direct succession from the apostles and through the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of our Lord. We also believe that only bishops have the ability to pass on this succession and ordain new priests. When Martin Luther split from the church and started the Protestant Church he was only a priest and not a bishop. Because of this we believe that he was unable to continue the apostolic succession. This point is a major stumbling block towards inter-communion with the Protestant faith and its offshoots.

This is a highly emotional and complicated issue, yet certain facts seem clear to me. Holy Communion should not be given to anyone's condemnation. As Orthodox Christians we are required to profess certain beliefs and to prepare properly in order to receive Holy Communion and it makes no sense not to require guests to do the same. Holy Communion is not denied to anyone who follows the rules in order to receive it. Like baptism, chrismation, prayer, fasting, confession etc.

After doing this research and writing this article, I understand more concerning the rules concerning inter-communion and am less concerned that they exist than I am about the fact that we have need of them. I believe the true answer lies in a true unity of faith where we have one Holy Communion, one body of Christ and one church for all. I do not know if or how this could occur but I pray that someday it will.

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